This is Lars.
On July 5, 2015 he suffered a massive injury, breaking his neck whilst mountain biking in Texel, leaving him without the use of his arms or legs. Lars currently resides in a rehabilitation facility in Amsterdam where he is receiving quality care, and he is slowly coming to terms with his new reality. While we all hope for the very best, the recovery process will take time and the outcome is uncertain.
A couple of days ago I was contacted by an old friend living in Amsterdam. He is a surfer, and Lars is one of his very best friends. He asked me if I would be interested in participating in this project, to raise awareness and to help Lars, and although I have never done a requested post like this one before it is nothing I would like more than to be able to help. My family is full of risk takers, and two years ago my little sister followed when she was the fifth family member to sky dive, right when she turned 16. This story about Lars really hits me in a very deep and vulnerable place. My oldest brother Gaute is a sky diver and base jumper, and my little brother Eirik is a mountain biker as well as being a badass skier and down hill long board rider. What happened to Lars is my deepest fear when it comes to my brothers. Brothers who jump off cliffs, out of planes, rides bikes and skis in dangerous surroundings.
These guys are in love with the thrill and excitement and most are talented at what they do, as well as very conscious about the risks that they are taking. In the course of writing this post I have had a long conversation with each of my brothers, to better understand what it is that drives them, how they overcome fear and what risk assessments they make. They are both ambitious risk takers and even though we have talked a lot about what they do, their adventures and their aspirations, I have never really talked to them about this. About what they feel when they are in dangerous situations, or what they do to avoid them from occurring, and how they feel when someone in their community gets hurt.
On the day that Lars suffered that incredibly rough hit, he was not out to push boundaries. His friends say that it was an easy trail, and he was going out to be social and have a nice day with his friends. He was a good rider, fast and fit. Not radical, but very strong. He was thrown off his bike on a day he was not out to push his limits, he was not really known as being a risk taker at all, and the worst thing that could happen did. His front tire jammed and he got thrown off his bike and hit a tree, breaking his neck and giving him severe nerve injury. People can break their back, or neck and walk out of the hospital without suffering from nerve damage, but Lars was not that lucky.
The doctors are very cautious when talking about the future, because recovery of spinal cord injury is still partly a mystery. There is no doubt that his life is going to look very different than what he had expected. I can't even imagine the pain that his girlfriend of ten years, his family and his closest friends feel: Watching him go through the process of coming to terms with his new conditions, wanting to help, but not being able to do anything to speed up his recovery. All they can do is to be there, to help massage his hands in hope that it will increase the blood flow and give him better feeling in his hands, to keep his spirit up in the dark moments and laugh with him in the good. He is a very humble guy and being used to helping others. Although Lars is not used to being in the foreground and receiving support, he is very touched by the campaign and the magnitude it has taken and that he can contribute to greater goods.
A percentage of the money that is collected will go to research or other causes, that is what Lars wants. While being in what must feel like a desperate situation, he is still thinking about others. Trying to be happy for his friends that are out surfing, doing what he loves, caring about the people around him, not turning bitter, but showing incredible strength. I doubt I would be able to do the same. His entire life has changed, and this financial support will help give him a life closer to normal, maybe fulfil some of his goals. The support, love and initiative also help his friends stay strong in this impossible situation. I must admit that I have been thinking a lot about my brothers these past few days.
We have this rule in my family, where if you are about to indulge in a risk filled adventure you should wait until after getting back safe to tell everyone you went. I know it sounds a bit silly, but it is a very helpful rule. I talk with my brothers a lot about their trips, their plans and goals, but they don't tell me on the day that they are going. Because accidents like the one Lars suffered from might happen, and there is in reality nothing you can do to prevent it. No amount of planning, skill or risk assessment can help you when you find yourself in a situation that is completely out of your control. Eirik told me that even though he is of course very aware of the fact that these kinds of accidents can happen, it is not something he is thinking about when he is out. He thinks more about risk assessments concerning the environment he is in, like when he is moving in mountain landscape, or about his own skills.
The risk of hurting a shoulder, get a concussion or break something is a lot bigger than what happened to Lars, and both my brothers say that the kind of accidents that happened to Lars is something that they need to push to the very back of their mind. They can't be consumed by a fear of dying or being paralyzed. These accidents can happen driving a car, on horse back, diving or when biking, as well as when doing all these extreme sports. Base jumpers, sky divers, mountain bikers, skiers, surfers and all others alike, are putting themselves at risk, knowing that they might get injured. But the risk of something as devastating as what happened to Lars is not something they can calculate. That is why my brothers say that they can distance themselves from the thought of experiencing the injuries that Lars has, but it is also what makes these accidents feel even more brutal and unfair.
But the thing is, for us at home it is hard to distance ourselves from those risks. When Eirik goes up into a snow filled mountain, I think that I'm more concerned with avalanches than he is, because he makes sure not to put himself in a situation that will lead to a possible risk. And when Gaute is going for a base jump, I really don't want to know until after, because I'll be thinking about the possibility for a miscalculation, a chute not working properly or a surprisingly strong wind in the wrong direction. It's harder for me to distance myself from these thoughts than it is for them. The community that they are a part of is really strong, and the support that they get from each other is important.
That is one of the things that really touches me about "Paddle for Lars": the warmth and initiative the community around him is showing. In order to assist Lars financially to help him through a life changing accident, and to raise money for paralysis research, they have created the "de Beer Foundation". Lars is just one out of 400-500 people that experience a chronic spinal cord injury yearly in the Netherlands. At the time of this accident, Lars was a freelance designer and did not have the insurance to cover such a life changing injury. To secure a solid future for Lars and ensure that his long-term needs are met, his friends and family have come together and have been met by enormous support, love and financial assistance from their communities and from all over the world.
If this was one of my brothers I would be so grateful and proud of the people in the community around them, making such a huge effort to help. I don't personally know Lars, but this still touched me in a very profound way. This kind of accident can happen due to so many reasons in our everyday life, as well as when taking part in more dangerous and risk filled sports, and even the thought of something like this happening to someone I love is devastating. The community around Lars, experiencing just that, has therefore arranged an event in Amsterdam on the 20th of September where they will paddle for Lars to raise money and awareness. If you are not in Amsterdam, you can donate to the people who are paddling, or to the event itself through the website. And even if you are not donating, please consider sharing this post anyway.
On Sunday, September 20th there will be an event where his friends ask the community to come together on Amsterdam’s legendary canals to Paddle for Lars and the Lars de Beer Foundation. Whether it be with stand-up paddleboard, surfboard or kayak, they are asking for all to sign-up and participate to raise money for a good cause and a friend in need. They will have SUPs and boards on hand for rental and no previous paddling experience is required to participate. There will be routes for all ages and abilities. To sign-up or make a donation, simply visit: http://www.paddleforlars.com.
The event will be held at Amsterdam Roest (Jacob Bontiusplaats 1, 1018 PL Amsterdam) and will kick-off with registration and coffee at 9am followed by the paddle on the canals and a silent auction and will conclude with drinks and music on-site at Roest (bands TBD). Please help share this event to create awareness! Lars is described by his friends as an incredibly generous and caring, loving person. He is very modest, and doesn't have Instagram or Facebook, so I'm guessing that being a public person in a very difficult time in your life, being the center of attention must be quite overwhelming. Nonetheless, this guy's community is standing up for him and showing an incredible amount of love and support. Even though Lars has experienced the worst thing that could have happened to him, Maarten told me this guy still has humour and is managing his situation really well.
"Ever meet someone that never had a bad word to say about anyone? Someone that helped everyone and asked for nothing in return? This is our friend Lars. Now he needs our help."